The White House has tried to distance President Donald Trump from his former campaign chair Paul Manafort, even though their ties go back years and Manafort ran Trump’s presidential campaign at a critical juncture.
After a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian efforts to influence the election earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Manafort played a “limited role for a very limited amount of time” in the campaign. And that was before an Associated Press report Wednesday that described documents which show Manafort orchestrated a secret plan to benefit Vladimir Putin’s Russian government in the United States and Europe, directly contradicting Manafort’s own claims he had no involvement with the Russian government.
Regardless, Manafort did not play a “limited role” in the campaign. He was involved with the campaign for five months, serving as campaign chairman for three of those months until he resigned. Moreover, his roles in the campaign, particularly Convention Manager, were crucial, and arguably prevented a derailing of Trump’s nomination through a floor fight at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Here’s a timeline of Manafort’s role in the Trump campaign.
March 29, 2016: Manafort joins the Trump campaign
The Trump campaign announced it had brought on Manafort, a veteran political strategist, to help the real estate mogul prevent delegates from bolting and choosing another nominee at the Republican National Convention in July. Although Trump led the Republican field in both votes and delegates, he was still unpopular among many Republicans, and it was unclear if he would end up with the necessary delegates to prevent a floor fight at the convention. Manafort was picked in part because he was instrumental in Gerald Ford’s successful floor fight in at the 1976 convention.
“Paul is a great asset and an important addition as we consolidate the tremendous support we have received in the primaries,” Trump said in a statement on March 29, 2016.
Manafort quickly got to work, ensuring the Trump campaign had a presence during the selection process and showing up to the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting in April.
May 19, 2016: Manafort is promoted to campaign chairman
Manafort was later promoted from convention manager to campaign chairman and chief strategist. Manafort told ABC News that the Republican establishment was gathering behind Trump and acknowledging his likely nomination. “There’s a growing number of people supporting us,” he said. “They all recognize now that we definitely can win.”
One month later, Manafort’s influence within the campaign appeared even more cemented after Trump fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, with whom Manafort had a well-documented power struggle.
Manafort was widely seen during the RNC convention, holding daily briefings for the media and defending Melania Trump after she was accused of plagiarizing Michelle Obama in her convention speech.
August 19, 2016: Manafort resigns
The Trump campaign announced Manafort was resigning from the campaign, nearly 5 months after he joined.
“I am very appreciative for his great work in helping to get us where we are today, and in particular his work guiding us through the delegate and convention process,” Trump said in a statement. “Paul is a true professional and I wish him the greatest success.”
The Trump campaign provided no reason for Manafort’s resignation. But in the days immediately leading up to the announcement, the New York Times reported investigators were looking into $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments to Manafort from former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, and the Associated Press reported he helped a pro-Russian party in Ukraine funnel money to lobbying firms in Washington, D.C.
“I think my father didn’t want to be distracted by whatever things Paul was dealing with,” Trump’s son Eric told Fox News after the resignation. “Paul was amazing, and, yes, he helped us get through the primary process, he helped us get through the convention. He did a great job with the delegates. But, again, my father didn’t want to have the distraction looming over the campaign.”
Shortly before Manafort’s resignation, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, now senior advisers to the White House, were brought on as the campaign’s chief executive and campaign manager, and ultimately led Trump to an unexpected victory in November.
After the election: Conflicting reports
Manafort retained the apartment he has long had in Trump Tower after his former boss was elected, records show, and he was spotted there by the press during the transition. Although the Daily Beast reported in late November that Manafort was advising Trump on Cabinet picks, his name was never included on the official roster of transition team members.
March 20, 2017: White House downplays involvement
Spicer downplayed Manafort’s role at a briefing Monday, as FBI Director James Comey was testifying at a congressional hearing about possible Russian meddling in the election. “Obviously, there’s been a discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time,” Spicer said.
“I probably should’ve focused more on the time he was there than the role he played,” Spicer later acknowledged to CNN.